After an impressive run for the last 8 games, Kobe Bryant was bound to slow down at some point. Instead of letting it slow down the Los Angeles Lakers and their impressive run towards the postseason, it just gave room for Dwight Howard to shine in the kind of game not too long ago he would have faltered and failed.
The Chicago Bulls are a limited team, but they’re very strong in the paint and on the glass. That was what they used to beat the Lakers with almost two months ago in Chicago, along with the Lakers’ inability to guard a point guard, but the Bulls have struggling lately against everyone, and the red hot Lakers presented a completely different Dwight Howard than the one they showcased for most of the season.
Howard went 0-5 from the line, but finished with 16 points, 21 rebounds (7 on the offensive glass) and 4 blocks as the made life, almost on his own, very difficult for Deng, Noah and Boozer, who usually dominate impressive front-lines and centers. The Lakers are a transformed unit, and while Kobe Bryant deserves most of the accolades for their recent run, it’s been a lot about Steve Nash doing things a bit off the headlines, and Dwight Howard adjusting to the new reality. Howard has 62 20-rebound games since entering the NBA in 2004, more than any other two players in the NBA during that time.
Nash scored 16 points and was especially efficient off the pick n’ roll, something that has hardly happened this season for Los Angeles, while the Bulls are on of the best in the league in stopping that kind of play. Nash was 5-7 from the field on P&R plays, more than doubling his season average on those plays (4.6 PPG).
Since going 17-25 to open the season, putting them at 12th in the Western conference, the Lakers have won 16 of their 22 games, finding themselves, for the first time, in sole possession of a playoff spot, since December 1. It took qutie a few transformations – the passing Kobe Bryant that worked for a while, and the doing everything Bryant, which worked against almost everyone but the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last couple of weeks.
This time? Bryant scored 19 points, but added 7 rebounds and 9 assists as the Lakers won 90-81. Finally, he was able to talk about playoffs and not feel frustration or old coming off another painful loss.
We’re very focused. We know what we have to do and what lies ahead. Everybody’s locked in.
In games against the Bulls, you never know if it was the awful Chicago offense that made the other defense look so good or do the Lakers actually have a better D at the moment? Nate Robinson did score 18 points, which means they still struggle to stop point guards, but they had no problem with the rest of ’em, especially Luol Deng who is doing terribly at the moment with Kirk Hinrich out of action – The Bulls shot 37.1% from the field and are 38.4% from the floor in the last four games. Deng is averaging 0.84 per possession in these last four.